Phasmids are masters of camouflage and have beautiful appearances. Some mimic twigs, others bark, some look like grass, and some look like leaves. Some show their striking colorful wings and impressive gestures when they feel threatened. But are stick bugs dangerous to humans?
As a whole, stick bugs are not dangerous for humans. Some stick bugs have defense mechanisms such as a chemical spray that can be used against predators. But stick bugs are generally very calm and non-aggressive creatures without any intentions to harm anyone. Their greatest asset is to hide.
Walking sticks are phytophagous. That means that they only eat plants and no meat. They are not interested in attacking, harming, or eating humans, but they do have some defense mechanisms that can actually hurt a human.
Can Walking Sticks Harm a Human?
Walking sticks are plant eaters. They feed on leaves of many kinds and only eat the green and leafy parts of the leaf. After they are done eating, the leaf will look like a skeleton. This is why walking sticks are called “skeletonizers”.
As a whole, some walking sticks are able to harm you when they feel threatened. Some use chemical defense sprays that can cause irritations or even short-term blindness, others have sharp spines that can punch through the skin, but most of them are completely harmless.
There are more than 3,000 different walking stick species we currently know about. Plenty more could exist, but they are pretty good at camouflaging and it is not so easy to find them.
Most walking stick species are very docile. They hide in trees, bushes, and the grass. If they feel threatened, they stop moving or drop to the floor, pretending to be dead. Some throw off a limb to confuse predators. In the next molt, they can regrow that limb.
Here is a small selection of different defense mechanisms that can potentially harm you. This list does not include all walking stick species but will give you a good idea of what some species are capable of when they feel threatened.
And some walking sticks have the ability to mimic scorpions by curling up the abdomen and looking as scary as possible to predators.
The Jungle Nymph (Heteropteryx Dilatata) is one of the species that mimic a scorpion. If the predator comes too close, it will clap the front legs together and hit whatever comes between. The Jungle Nymph is pretty strong and punches through the skin, causing bleeding.
Another species, that uses this disguise is the Giant Prickly Stick Insect which is also referred to as Australian Stick Insect (Extatosoma Tiaratum). In addition to mimicking a scorpion, it can also spray a colorless defense chemical towards predators, but this chemical is harmless to humans and smells a bit like toffee.
Chemical Defense Spray
Some species use chemical sprays against predators. These chemicals can cause rashes. Some are completely harmless and have an interesting smell.
The species that use acidic substances are often diurnal. That means that they do most of their moving and eating during the day. This is why they need an additional defense mechanism to protect themselves from predators.
If you own a walking stick that is able to spray a chemical that is known to cause a rash, always handle it with care. Stick insects are able to spray their chemicals quite far. Some are known to eject substances up to 30 inches (76cm). Always wear gloves and protection glasses with these species.
The Australian Stick Insect (Extatosoma Tiaratum) uses a chemical, but it’s harmless to humans and smells like toffee.
The Sipyloidea Sipylus (Pink Winged Stick Insect) also uses a harmless chemical that smells like molding hay or grass. It is not dangerous. The goal is to confuse the predator.
The Pseudophasma Subapterum is also able to spray a chemical towards predators when it feels threatened. This species is usually calm and docile, but this chemical can cause a rash. If you own a Pseudophasma Subapterum, you should always wear gloves and protection glasses when handling them.
Another species with a chemical defense spray is the Anisomorpha Buprestoides. It is also known as the Florida Stick, Georgia Stick, Two-Striped Walking Stick, Devil’s Riding Horse, Witch’s Horse, or Muskmare. Pretty impressive range of names for one species, right?
This species uses a foul-smelling chemical when it feels threatened. This chemical can cause a rash and when the chemical gets into the eyes, it can even cause temporary blindness.
The Megacrania batesii is also known as the Peppermind Stick Insect, due to its striking color. This species uses a sticky white fluid to threaten away predators.
The Parectatosoma hystrix is another species that uses a chemical that can cause irritations. This species also has a really impressive appearance with sharp, red spines.
The Peruphasma Schultei is a species that is also referred to as Black Beauty Stick Insect. And it deserves that name. They have completely black bodies, yellow eyes, bright red vestigial wings, and black and white front wings. They use a irritating chemical against predators.
There are species with very sharp spines, such as the Jungle Nymph (Heteropteryx Dilatata), or the Haaniella Scabra.
These species should be handled with care. The shines can be so sharp, that they punch through the skin if you don’t pay attention while handling them.
The Haaniella grayii is another species with very sharp spines. It uses the heavily armed legs to slash any predator that comes too close.
Other species with sharp spines on the body and the legs are the Eurycnema versirubra, and Eurycantha calcarata. The spines might seem small, but they can hurt.
One species with really impressive thorns is the Epidares nolimetangere. It is also known as the “Touch-me-not Stick Insect”, because of the many sharp spines.
The Parectatosoma hystrix also has very impressive spines and looks more like a bramble twig. This species uses a venomous chemical as well against predators.
Completely Harmless Species
Most of the species that are kept as pets are harmless and have no chemical they could use. They are incapable of stinging, biting, spraying chemicals, or harming humans in any other way. Their only defense mechanism is to hide, hold still, or try to escape.
Examples for super docile species are the Indian Stick Insect (Carausius Morosus), Annam Stick Insect (Medauroidea Extradentata), Vietnam Stick Insect (Ramulus Artemis), Thailand Stick Insect (Ramulus Thaii), Dares Validispinus, Aretaon Asperrimus, Clonaria Conformans, and Phaenopharus Khaoyaiensis (Khao Stick Insect).
There are plenty more species that are completely harmless to humans.
Are Stick Bugs Poisonous?
The majority of stick insects are very calm, slowly moving creatures. They are the masters of disguise and camouflage and almost invisible in the wild.
Many walking sticks are completely harmless and non-poisonous. However, there are a few species, that use a poisonous chemical defense spray when they feel threatened.
Examples of stick insect species with an irritating chemical defense spray are the Pseudophasma subapterum, the Anisomorpha Buprestoides, the Megacrania batesii, the Parectatosoma hystrix, and the Peruphasma Schultei.
Do Walking Sticks Spit at You?
Most walking sticks have no defense mechanisms other than hiding and escaping. But especially the diurnal ones are sometimes able to spray acidic chemicals at predators, such as the Anisomorpha buprestoides that can cause discomfort or even short-term blindness if the chemical comes in contact with the eyes.
There is a species that is commonly referred to as the Spitting devil (Anisomorpha Buprestoides). This species also uses an irritating acid to protect itself. But despite the name, the Spitting devil does not “spit” the chemical. It actually sprays the acidic substance out of the front part of the thorax.
Some species are actually able to regurgitate an evil-tasting liquid through their mouth. This could be referred to as “spitting”.
Are Giant Walking Sticks Poisonous?
Walking sticks come in many shapes and sizes. Some are larger than others, and some are so big, that they are referred to as “Giant” walking sticks.
There are several species that can be referred to as “Giant Walking Sticks”, even though the Megaphasma Denticrus is probably meant when someone talks about the Giant Walking Stick.
The Megaphasma Denticrus is commonly referred to as “Giant Walking Stick”. It is the largest stick insect species in North America.
This species is nocturnal and cannot fly. It has a pretty appearance with a light green color and red stripes on the back. The males have a funny-shaped clasper at the tip of the abdomen.
This is used to hold onto the females during mating. It is NOT a stinger. This species is completely harmless. It cannot sting, bite, or spray any chemicals. This Giant Walking stick is not poisonous.
There are some other species, that are also commonly referred to as “Giant” Walking sticks, such as the Diapherodes gigantea (Giant Lime Green Stick Insect), the Trachyaretaon brueckneri (Giant Thorny Stick Insect), The Tirachoidea biceps (Giant Green Stick Insect), the Eurycantha calcarata (Giant Spiny) and the Extatosoma tiaratum (Giant Prickly and Giant Spiny Stick Insect).
All of these species are non-poisonous, but one of the species is able to spray a chemical substance: The Extatosoma tiaratum, also known as Giant Prickly, Giant Spiny Stick Insect, Spiny Leaf Insect, Australian Stick Insect, and Macleay’s Spectre.
This species can spray a chemical that is non-poisonous and smells moldy or like toffee. It is meant to threaten predators away, but cannot harm anyone. This is one of the most popular pet walking stick species.
It does not only come with a really interesting appearance, but it also has some cool features. When the nymphs hatch, they look like tiny fire ants and even move like ants.
After a few days, they change their appearance and look like dried-out leaves. They are non-aggressive and completely harmless.
Can Stick Insects Bite You?
Walking sticks do not bite in order to defend themselves. But of course, they are able to “bite”. They eat leaves and have to be able to chew them.
A biting stick insect is extremely rare. And if a stick bug does bite you, you will probably not even feel it. Depending on the size of the stick insect, the worst thing that you might feel is a tiny sting. Stick insects are not able to bite through your skin, no matter how hard they try. And believe me: They won’t try, as long as you are not a fresh leaf.
Can You Touch a Stick Bug?
It is possible to touch stick bugs. But keep in mind that they are fragile insects that do not like to be cuddled or touched. If you have to touch them, in order to relocate them, be very gentle and careful. Some stick bug species have sharp spines that can potentially punch through your skin.
If you have to touch them, you can put your hand under the stick bug and slowly lift it up. It will try to hold on to whatever it was sitting on, first, but will eventually grab onto your hand.
Do not grab the limbs. Many walking sticks have a defense mechanism to throw off limbs when they feel threatened in order to confuse the predator.
Experienced walking stick keepers can use the thumb and index finger to hold the thorax of the insect. This should only be done with sturdy species, such as the Jungle Nymph. Very slim species might get crushed in this grip.
Can you Have a Stick Bug as a Pet?
Stick bugs can make great pets. They are docile, calm, undemanding creatures that need only a little space, and come with low costs and low maintenance. They don’t make noises and can be very educational, even for children.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂